Since the introduction of the AC45 to the America’s Cup World Series, there has been an influx of Olympic talent the like of which has never been seen before in the America’s Cup.
When the Cup was contested in large keelboats, the prime recruiting ground was from the grand prix world of keelboat racing. Big guys with lots of keelboat experience were in demand. But now with the lighter, nimbler and aerobically demanding catamarans, both the 45 and 72-foot varieties, younger sailors from the Olympic scene are now top of the wish list for most teams.
While the more established teams such as Emirates Team New Zealand and ORACLE Racing have re-skilled their existing sailors, for the new teams who have been recruiting from scratch, looking for talent from the Olympic ranks was the obvious solution.
Three categories of Olympic sailing discipline have proven particularly popular:
Finn, heavyweight men’s singlehanded dinghy:
The physically most demanding boat in the Olympics, the Finn sailor has to be very strong and powerful, and tactically astute. Green Comm Racing’s skipper Vasilij Zbogar, a double Olympic medallist, is campaigning a Finn for next year’s Olympics. Other notables from the Finn include the 2010 World Champion from Great Britain, Ed Wright (Green Comm) and Australia’s Anthony ‘Nocka’ Nossiter. This is also the class that brought the name of Russell Coutts to the world’s attention, after he won Olympic Gold at the Los Angeles Games in 1984. Artemis tactician Iain Percy won Finn Gold in Sydney 2000. And John Bertrand, the skipper of Australia II in the legendary 1983 America’s Cup, is a Finn bronze medallist from 1976, so there is a long and strong connection between the Finn and the Cup.
Not long after taking the silver medal in the Tornado doublehanded catamaran at the 2008 Olympics, Glenn Ashby was hired by ORACLE Racing to bring some specialist multihull expertise to the American team in its bid to win the 33rd America’s Cup from Alinghi. When he won in Valencia, skipper James Spithill paid tribute to Ashby’s coaching skills, although the Australian has since been lured away by Emirates Team New Zealand, with Ashby trimming the wing alongside skipper Dean Barker. Stepping into Ashby’s role at ORACLE Racing was Ashby’s team mate from the Tornado, Darren Bundock. A double Olympic medallist and multiple multihull world champion, Bundock has since moved from coach to helmsman of ORACLE Racing Coutts. There are many other Tornado talents dotted around the teams. China Team’s skipper Charlie Ogletree is an Olympic silver medallist from Athens 2004, and his helmsman Andreas Hagara is a former European Champion in the class. China Team crew men Pim Nieuwenhuis and Will Howden have both represented their countries, the Netherlands and Great Britain, in the Tornado. Mark Bulkeley is another Briton who raced the Tornado at the Athens 2004 Games and now sails aboard Team Korea. Skippers of the two French teams, Pierre Pennec of Aleph and Yann Guichard of Energy Team, are former Tornado representatives for France.
Like Tornado sailors, 49er crews know all about sailing faster than the wind and using asymmetric gennakers to power their skiffs downwind at high speed. So it’s no surprise to see so many 49er sailors in the AC45s. Chris Draper and Simon Hiscocks won two 49er World Championships and an Olympic bronze as team mates for Great Britain. Now, however, they’re on rival teams – Draper as skipper of Team Korea and Hiscocks trimming Green Comm’s wing rig. Another of Draper’s former team mates, Pete Greenhalgh, is the only non-Frenchman on Energy Team. Javier de la Plata is a Spanish former 49er World Champion who shares the wing-trimming work with Hiscocks at Green Comm.
There are other Olympic notables beginning to appear on the Cup scene, such as multiple Laser World Champion Tom Slingsby, the favourite to win gold at the 2012 Olympics in Weymouth, England next summer. Slingsby has signed with ORACLE Racing and is looking forward to training full time with the team after his Olympic duties are completed in August. He expects to see more Olympians getting into the Cup.
“Particularly the Tornado guys, but others too. These guys, they’re used to sailing high performance boats in the Olympics, and now that’s what we’ve got in the America’s Cup. You’ve got to be young and fit and hopefully we’ll see more and more guys coming through.”
Slingsby is one of a number of Australians coming into the game, although the biggest influx is from Great Britain. These are the two strongest nations in Olympic sailing, with the French not far behind, so it’s no surprise that these nations are proving to be the biggest recruiting grounds.
Chris Draper says there are plenty more where he came from, Olympic medallists and world champions from Britain who are looking for the next big project.
“There’s a phase of Olympic sailors that have got towards the end of their Olympic careers now and are looking to the future. In the UK there are a lot of people who have benefited from lottery funding and have been full-time professional sailors for the past 10 years. They’ve got the skills, they’ve won Olympic medals, and there’s no reason why they can’t go and win America’s Cups.”
The 34th America´s Cup consists of three main stages – the America´s Cup World Series, the Louis Vuitton Cup and the America´s Cup Finals. Each AC World Series regatta will be a combination of practice and championship racing, with additional practice sailing on-site ahead of each event.
Photos / Videos: Americas Cup & © GILLES MARTIN-RAGET / ACEA
All articles about Americas Cup ...
Every magazine has a different content. The main edition is in ENGLISH.